Israeli analysts and commentators responded this morning to the surprise announcement last night by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin that Russian forces will begin withdrawing from Syria with immediate effect.
Moscow established a military presence and began carrying out air strikes in Syria in September, in support of Syria’s embattled President Assad. The Russian intervention appears to have bolstered Assad, whose forces have reversed the military situation against opposition forces in several parts of the country, with the help of Russian air strikes.
Putin’s announcement last night that Russian forces are to be withdrawn was unexpected. He said that “the task put before… Russian armed forces has, on the whole, been fulfilled.” Although Russian forces will be depleted and air strikes will presumably end, a Russian airbase and naval base in Syria will remain intact.
During the past six months, Israel and Russia have established a high-level chain of communication, in order to coordinate their respective military operations in and around Syria. This morning, Israeli analysts have discussed what the Russian withdrawal from Syria might mean for Israel. Yediot Ahronot’s defence correspondent Alex Fishman says that “this is not great news,” as “the Russian presence in Syria was actually a moderating factor. The dialogue that was created between the two armies, Israeli and Russian, also opened diplomatic options.” He contends that “The Russians are leaving—the Iranians are returning,” as Assad’s main ally and partner.
In Maariv, Yossi Melman expresses similar sentiments, saying “Now Iran will return to playing the role of Assad’s main crutch.” He says that Putin’s decision “is both a blessing and a risk,” as on the one hand Israel will enjoy greater freedom of movement. However, “On the other hand, the Israeli freedom of action is liable to encounter the renewed dominance of Iran in the Syrian theatre.” Indeed, Israel’s Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said yesterday during a lecture in Washington, that “To leave us with an Iranian-dominated Syria… we can’t agree with it.”
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